Why I left the church

About once every couple of weeks, I receive the well-meaning invitation to go to church with some of my housemates and others in the burgeoning recovery network of Dickson, TN. Some of them proffer the invite in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way, already correctly guessing my most common response based on previous discussions we’ve had about religion, fundamentalism, superstition, and spirituality.

My response to an invitation to church is usually something like,

“Well, not really, but thanks for asking.”

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First, a quick disclaimer. Like virtually everything else one reads, this article represents my own perspective: the result of my own personal/subjective experiences, knowledge, understanding, and beliefs. In the lifelong pursuit of truth, it is absolutely critical to (1)Remain open-minded, and (2)Remember that virtually no communication is completely objective or free of some type of slant. What follows is merely one of countless opinions about organized religion, God, truth, etc. May our views continue to evolve with experience, continued searching, and spiritual practice.

So why do I typically choose not to attend evangelical Protestant church services? Well, there are several factors that play into my usual decline of the church offer. The fact is, I left the church somewhere around the year 2000 — most likely for good, although (I hope) I remain reasonably open-minded.

A few of my reasons for leaving the church

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The Search for Truth blog is an attempt to answer that question along with some related queries regarding religion and spirituality. Obviously, I do not claim the content herein to be absolute truth. It’s simply an approximation of what seems to be true for me and many others with similar beliefs.

My leaving the church has been just one of many interesting results of in-depth, wide-ranging (in both time spent and topics covered), ongoing research into Christian apologetics (e.g., CARM) and related issues such as the errancy vs. inerrancy of scripture argument and such, which I’ve previously written about here.

Some basic reasons I usually decide not to go to church:

    • My heart says, No; something about this whole system is seriously wrong.

    • I don’t want or need to have rigid, divisive opinions concerning supernatural things humans could not possibly know.

      Such knowledge is clearly beyond human understanding. I believe every life challenge has a practical, pragmatic, spiritual solution – that living by basic universal spiritual principles is infinitely more important than choosing (or becoming an official adherent of) any particular set of supernatural beliefs.

    • Accepting literally interpreted Bible passages and stories means that the beliefs of all other religions and spiritual paths are wrong.

      Seems quite the stretch. Worse, according to popular interpretation, the failure to believe in very specific, highly unlikely supernatural events will result in eternal torture.

    • I left the church because my difficult questions and expressions of doubt were ignored, frowned upon, or answered using circular logic and other common logical fallacies associated with such belief systems.

    • I left the church because I do not reject science, and because I try to practice intellectual honesty.

      Religious satire: Unscientific American magazine cover For example, the earth is probably billions of years old; humans probably share a common ancestor with apes. Generally, attempts to convince intelligent/educated folks that science and standard Protestant Biblical interpretation are somehow compatible are pretty lacking. In the church, science which potentially conflicts with stated religious beliefs is generally ignored or implicitly rejected as being incompatible with the sorts of beliefs we are talking about.In more extreme (and sadly, common) cases, fideism is the result. Fideism eschews rationality in the name of faith, and in its more extreme modalities, any potential conflict with religion is considered to be a form of evil, whether that conflict be science, logic, mathematics, or “false prophets.”

      Furthermore, I cannot claim that such beliefs are congruent with reality and be honest with myself (and others) at the same time.

    • I left the church because the anthropomorphic, primitive, geocentric version of God taught there is almost certainly imaginary. Such a view often produces accusations of atheism or similar pigeonholing in the minds and from the religious art: Adam and Evemouths of closed-minded folks and related sorts of black-and-white thinking… again, a result of common logical fallacies often employed by religious fundamentalists and political hyper-partisans. While I would not categorically declare that God is imaginary, I’d have to say that the version of God commonly resulting from a literally interpreted Bible is most likely fiction.
    • I left the church because the entire system is rooted in primitive beliefs and really makes no sense at all when honestly considered. Once reason, logic, and intelligence are thrown out, any version of God, any belief system — or nearly any story ever written, for that matter — becomes fair game.
    • I left the church because the actions of Bible God, when literally interpreted, approximate “evil” about as closely as anything else I could conceive: murder, genocide, killing living beings in the name of sacrifice, eternal torture as punishment, and so on. I believe the human ego — not a fallen angel named Satan — represents the only kind of evil we need to be concerned about in reality, looking at it pragmatically. Yahweh, the Old Testament deity, talks and acts like a different deity than that described in the New Testament. At best, the Bible God as commonly interpreted appears to be a judging, ego-driven, superhuman-type entity (perhaps providing a hint re: who actually created whom).

OK… So, knowing your opinions concerning religious and related matters, why would you go to church at all — even occasionally?

Here are a few reasons I choose to attend religious services on occasion.

        1. Pleasant nostalgia. I grew up in a very conservative Protestant church, so many of the old songs and other aspects of Christian services really bring forth some powerful nostalgic feelings.
        2. Christian friends. I have many friends in the church and/or who attend church. Most members of the church I know are good people.
        3. Social contact in general. Briefly, modern, long-term studies (along with the actual history and experiences of myself and other folks with whom I’ve discussed these matters at length) seem to clearly demonstrate that strong, positive social connections (and how we think about and interact with others) are the key to overcoming addiction and to some extent the pervasive “spiritual malady.” (This, along with many other bullet points herein, are themselves subjects for further research and possible future in-depth articles — some to be written and posted later, perhaps). IMHO, a strong spiritual connection is also required.

All that being said…

        • If it truly works for you, pursue it and live it. IMHO, one would do well to refrain from pushing one’s specific God concept or supernatural beliefs upon others. Live by example, applying spiritual principles in all areas of life (a goal at which I often fail).

Spiritual experiences, direct communion with gods, and enlightenment

I believe this to be a hard, warm fact: One must find one’s own path to God, the Universe, enlightenment, true inner peace, heaven, and/or whatchamacallit. One’s path of spiritual thinking and living is largely subjective. I believe most find that words cannot accurately or completely describe experiences of the divine; that attempts to describe such are like the proverbial finger pointing at the moon.

Your direct experience of God/oneness/whatchamacallit will not be exactly like anyone else’s. The experience of oneness with all things is something we can gently point others toward via our actions, not cause them to have. Finally, one cannot force oneself or anyone else to have such experiences, whether or not one believes s/he knows the only path or possesses the only valid key to complete redemption (as do religious fundamentalists, sadly). It seems that spiritual experiences come in unpredictable fits and starts.

The spiritual journey does not consist of arriving at a new destination where a person gains what he did not have, or becomes what he is not. It consists in the dissipation of one’s own ignorance concerning one’s self and life, and the gradual growth of that understanding which begins the spiritual awakening. The finding of God is a coming to one’s own Self.
— Aldous Huxley

Thanks so much for reading this. Please pass it on if you find it interesting.

Resources: Concept of God, examples of relevant beliefs

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Christian statement of faith

In general, the statement of faith (e.g., the creed) of typical Southern US Protestants evolved from the Apostles’ Creed and/or the Nicene Creed and goes something like this:

        • We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
        • We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
        • We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
        • We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
        • We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
        • We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.

Resources: Christian creed, Christian statement of faith

Resources: Leaving the church